SOMERSET Council economic leaders were quizzed on its "financial emergency", the cost of creating the unitary authority and potential closure of the county's CCTV centre at a meeting with Somerset Chamber of Commerce members.

Some business owners said current council grants are small and there are fears they could be cut further in the upcoming budget.

Paul Hickson, the council’s service director for economy, employment and planning, said: “These are challenging financial times for the council but this isn’t unique to Somerset.

“We have declared what we call a financial emergency because of the gap we have in our budget next year.

“At one stage we were looking at a gap of £100million, but we have pared that back so the gap is less challenging than it was, but nevertheless councillors are going to face some difficult decisions when they finally set the budget in February.”

He said the council was considering several options, including using reserves to buy time, raising fees, reducing or stopping non-statutory services and reducing the size of the local authority.

He said it would look to work more closely with businesses and business organisations, especially as the Government is ceasing funding for local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) at the end of March.

“The responsibilities of LEPs will be transferred to local authorities and it will require us to continue to work with our business partners, such as the chamber of commerce, as the Government is keen to see a business voice informing local authorities as to what the business priorities should be when we develop an economic strategy,” Mr Hickson said.

James Gilgrist, Somerset Council’s head of economic prosperity, said the authority has supported businesses through a number of initiatives, including green grants, a mentoring scheme, managed workspaces, innovation centres and enterprise centres.

This included a newly extended one-stop-shop offering businesses advice on anything council-related.

He added: “The Somerset Business Hub was previously operated by Mendip but as part of our merger into a unitary authority we have extended it to cover the wider area.

“It gives businesses a central point of contact for information about the council, from licensing and planning to food and health and safety, the hub is there to help."

Emma Rawlings, Somerset Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive, said: "Somerset Chamber is here to support the local business community so we were pleased to be able to bring together companies and senior council leaders to talk about the opportunities and help available to them and to find out more about the serious financial pressures facing the authority.”